NO MAN’S LAND (WESTERN SUNSHINE) (Ning Hao, 2009)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Walter Reade Theater
144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Tuesday, July 1, 9:15
Festival continues through July 10
Finally getting its North American premiere after being banned in its home country of China, Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land is a violently beautiful black comedy that takes on modernization and commercialization with tongue firmly and riotously rooted deep in cheek. Xu Zhen stars as Pan Xiao, a young hotshot lawyer, if he does say so himself, who gets a vicious falcon poacher (Duo Bujie) off for killing a cop. The poacher promises to wire Pan his fee, but the lawyer instead demands collateral in the form of the red car the poacher bought for his dead wife. Pan then sets out for home, riding across the Gobi desert in Xinjiang in northwest China, but things don’t go too well for him, as he keeps getting involved with strange, dangerous, ever-more-surreal men and women, from a pair of truck drivers transporting hay (Wang Shuangbao and Sun Jianmin) to an extortionist gas station owner (Yan Xinming) and his back-room prostitute (Yu Nan) to another falcon poacher (Huang Bo) who can’t avoid getting the crap beaten out of him time and time again. But Pan keeps trying to persevere, believing he is better than everyone around him, but it takes him quite a while to learn his lesson, if he ever really does.
Gorgeously photographed in a desert palette by Du Jie and featuring a noirish neo-spaghetti Eastern score by Nathan Wang, No Man’s Land is a thoroughly entertaining genre picture that pays tribute to such forebears as the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple and Raising Arizona, George Miller’s The Road Warrior, John Dahl’s Red Rock West, and the Quentin Tarantino / Robert Rodriguez collaborations. Hao (Crazy Racer, Mongolian Ping Pong) is in firm control of his wacky tale, which is lovingly paced even as the craziness reaches major proportions. Xu (Lost in Thailand) and Duo (Mountain Patrol: Kekexili) manage to gain sympathy for their characters despite all outward appearances, making for an engaging and unusual kind of odd couple. No Man’s Land is a helluva lot of fun, exactly the kind of film we’ve come to expect from the New York Asian Film Festival, where it will be screening July 1 at 9:15 at the Walter Reade Theater. The thirteenth annual NYAFF continues through July 10 with some five dozen films, including Park Joong-hoon’s Top Star, Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius, Hitoshi Matsumoto’s R100, and Matt Chow’s Chickensss before leading into the two-week Japan Cuts series at Japan Society.